MICHAEL GRAVES'S PORTLAND BUILDING
AND ITS PROBLEMS

Meredith L. Clausen and Kim Christiansen
University of Washington




Introduction

Last April at the 1996 annual meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians, I gave a paper on the Portland Public Service Building, now an icon in American architectural history. There I focused on the role Philip Johnson played in securing Michael Graves the job, and the dangers of an unwitting, architecturally naive public relying on the advice of a partisan party for professional advice. My thesis was that the Portland Building, which has gone down in annals of history as a seminal structure, crystallizing if not defining Postmodernism with its historicizing, brilliantly colored facades, would not have come about had it not been for Philip Johnson. As professional advisor, he assured a skeptical jury, and later the City Council, that of the three finalists in the national competition--Arthur Erickson, Mitchell-Giurgola, and the then-unproven Michael Graves, Graves would provide them the best building for their money. I then pointed out that in fact the building was flawed from the beginning, and its problems--structural as well as functional--have only become more apparent with time. Since my delivery of the paper, its structural problems have become so glaring and the cost of repairing them so formidable, the mayor has raised the possibility of simply abandoning the building. Ref.1 With the help of Kim Christiansen, a research assistant in civil engineering, I am focusing here more deliberately on these specific structural flaws.



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